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When Trying To Lose Weight, Should You Cut Calories or Carbs?

Count calories or banish carbs? We sort healthy eating fact from fiction.

Updated
Health News
4 min read


It’s one of the most hotly debated topics among nutritionists. Should you cut down calories or carbs when you’re eyeing a svelte waistline? (Photo: iStock)

There are many absurd myths in nutrition.

The “calorie myth” is one of the most pervasive and most damaging. It is the notion that all calories are created equal and the formula to lose weight is as simple as calories in, calories out and that the source of calories doesn’t count.

But is it this mistaken faith that is hindering our weight loss goals? Here’s sorting healthy eating fact from fiction.

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A Calorie Is Never Just a Calorie

‘Low’ is not ‘trouble-free’.
‘Low’ is not ‘trouble-free’.
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)

Cutting calories is essential to losing weight – it’s a no-brainer that you need to eat smaller, more frequent portions when trying to lose weight, but if weight loss boiled down to simple arithmetic of calories in, calories out, a low-fat diet would be the answer to all your worries.

In comparison to carbs or protein, fat contains approximately twice the number of calories, gram for gram. But a low-fat diet is pretty much a failure when it comes to sustained weight loss. The huge success of Paleo and Mediterranean diets, which are relatively dense in fat, indicate weight loss cannot be pinned to straightforward arithmetic.

Two apples, a bite of chocolate, a bunch of broccoli and a trench of pizza can all have the same 200 calories – now which one sounds like a complete, wholesome, filling meal to you? Clearly, the quantity and the quality of calories BOTH matter when it comes to weight loss. 

Bottom-line: Different foods have different effects on satiety so opt for the food which gives better bang for your buck.

You Aren’t a Living Math Formula – Low-Calorie Doesn’t Matter, Nutritional Content Counts

Start with veggies, protein and then eat the carbs – this is because the fibre in the vegetables stay in your stomach for longer and protein sends satiety signals to the brain. (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/Peanuts)
Start with veggies, protein and then eat the carbs – this is because the fibre in the vegetables stay in your stomach for longer and protein sends satiety signals to the brain. (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/Peanuts)

3,500 calories one way or the other results in a pound of weight loss or gain. So by that logic, if you regularly consume ‘zero-calorie’ or ‘calorie-free’ foods like diet sodas, they should be the slimmest? But these are exactly the type of people who are more likely to gain weight over time.

Artificial sweeteners, though negligible in calories, can be up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. This drives all sorts of high-carb, high-fat, highly processed foods’ cravings and you end up gaining a lot of weight. 
Kanchan Patwardhan, Nutritionist
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Myth: All Carbs Are Unhealthy

Carbs have been the bad guys for the last couple of decades. Watermelon, pineapple, banana, cold drinks, rasgulla, gulab jamun all have very different kinds of carbohydrates, but they are often clubbed together as ‘evil’.

This confusion stems from the fact that most carbohydrates can spike your blood sugar levels. Each time you eat them, your blood sugar levels rise and subsequently fall, and it is a well-known fact that constant elevation of blood sugar levels can lead to weight gain. While this is a truth, its impact on your waistline is blown out of proportion, according to nutritionists.

If you have to pick between a restricted, low-calorie diet and a low-carb one, then low-carb is superior. Be wise, don’t give up chapatis, rice and fruits which are all healthy sources of carbohydrates for instant results. Quick weight loss is never a long-term solution, for that you will have to modify your lifestyle entirely. 
Kanchan Patwardhan, Nutritionist

There Are Good, Bad and Bogus Carbs

Carbs have a stinky reputation in the weight loss universe but the ones which induce cravings are the highly refined, low in nutritional content kind – think colas, candies, cookies and chips.

Never cut carbs cold turkey. Definitely clamp down on cheesy pastas, pizza or any processed carbohydrate if you want to lose weight but don’t just banish the chapati you have for lunch – that gives you energy. Replace atta roti with multi-grain. Have roasted makhana with chai instead of biscuits, make fresh bhel at home and don’t touch the packaged aloo bujhiya.
Purva Duggal, Nutritionist
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)

Size, when it comes to food portions, really does matter.

The trick, experts say, is to focus on the type of carbohydrates and then eat only till you’re satisfied and not hungry anymore. If you don’t stuff yourself, then you automatically eat fewer calories.

Bottom line: Like with everything in weight loss, the Goldilocks perspective for carbohydrates is ideal. Not too much, not too little, the right balance and the right size will make you energetic and help you drop pounds too.

Related Read: Is a Banana Worth the Calories?

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